Dana Cohen spent her early childhood in Lvov, Poland. The daughter of a saw mill owner, she and her mother, Freda Sygal enjoyed the comforts of their society. All of that changed on the morning of April 13, 1940, when Russian soldiers stormed into their house, confiscated their apartment and personal belongings, and sent Dana and her mother on their nightmarish journey through Russia, Siberia, and Kazakhstan.
They spent their first year of exile in a village of Kazakhs, natives of Mongolian descent. In the village, the Russians formed labor gangs consisting of women and children to build stables, dig foundations, and perform other field work – all without payment and little food. If the Russians did not consider their work to be of the highest standard, they were denied their food rations. Dana and Freda survived the hard labor on “care packages” from family members left in Poland.
As the Germans advanced into Russian territory, the Jewish families were released, and the surviving families made plans to escape to Uzbekistan. When the train arrived, Dana’s mother paid a local Kazakh to hold her trunk with all her food, clothing, and identification papers until she boarded. By sheer force, Dana and her mother were pushed inside the train, but the Kazakh vanished with their possessions.
After many harrowing experiences which often separated the two, including Dana being hospitalized and then evacuated in a weakened condition from a hospital in Tehran, Dana and her mother ended in Koja, Uganda on Lake Victoria. At sixteen, Dana left for Nairobi, where she attended Remington College.
In 1958, Dana moved from Nairobi to Washington, DC, where she met her future husband, William Cohen. Dana’s mother, Fryda, joined Dana and Bill in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1965. Dana and her son, Michael still reside in Norfolk.